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Scientists at the University of Queensland have successfully designed a molecule that displays much greater accuracy for binding exclusively to cancerous tumour cells than previously used targeted molecules. The molecule was synthesised in the hope that it would reduce the damage caused to healthy cells during drug treatment of cancer. Their investigation is reported in the following scientific paper: Coles, D.J.; Rolfe, B.E; Boase, N.R.B; Veedu, R.N; Thurecht, K.J. Aptamer-targeted Hyperbranched Polymers: Towards Greater Specificity for Tumours in vivo Chem. Commun., 2013,49, 3836-3838 Cancer affects the majority of the population, speak to any member of the public and chances are they will have a story about someone they know who has suffered, overcome or been defeated by the disease. In 2008 alone, according to the Global Cancer Statistics, around 12.7 million cancer cases and 7.6 million cancer deaths are estimated to have occurred worldwide. Speak to anyone who has witnessed the current intense treatments in widespread use for cancer and you will hear tales of aggressive side effects and dramatic hair loss. The team of interdisciplinary scientists from the University of Queensland, Australia designed a molecule to reduce the damage caused to these healthy cells during treatment of cancerous treatments. The molecule was a hyperbranched polymer; a protein with many branches reaching out from a central core with specific groups attached in order to modify the proteins function. An aptamer group was added which is a small molecule that is used to target the destination of the hyperbranched polymer. The aptamer group used was designed to bind to a protein that is known to be overexpressed in tumour cells, like two interlocking pieces of a biological jigsaw. The team of scientists also added a fluorescent group, which once in the body would allow the destination of the molecule to be determined using imaging techniques. This treatment was tested on mice with week old cancerous tumours by injection into their blood stream and compared with a folate targeting molecule; a current treatment for drug delivery that uses an attached vitamin to target the tumour.

Fluorescent imaging of folate and apatamer targeted hyperbranched polymer molecule in mice.

The folate targeted molecule accumulated in the liver and kidneys with the remainder collecting at the tumour site. Whereas the aptamer targeted molecule mainly accumulated at the tumour site with only very small residues being observed in the kidneys. This means that the polymer and hence the drug would not be excreted quickly by the liver and kidneys allowing it to remain the blood for longer hence increasing the likelihood of the drug reaching the tumour. It also means that the drug remains at the tumour site for longer allowing a longer timeframe for it to act upon the tumour. During current investigations, no drug molecule was used however the team are now investigating potential therapeutic roles for this aptamer targeted hyperbranched polymer. By use of the attached fluorescent group, there is also a potential for accurate imaging of tumours inside the body, as the molecule accumulates predominately at the tumour site, using simple imaging techniques the tumours location can be observed. On the scale of developing a cure-all or miraculous treatment for the many varied types of cancer, this small step may seem insignificant. However, it is true that with each published paper, we are collectively one step closer to developing more accurate treatments and reducing potent side effects. With these small steps towards optimising treatment, we are also learning more about the varied forms the tumour can take and the disease itself including causes; genetic or environmental. This increased knowledge is helping the scientific community investigate other aspects of dealing with cancerous tumours which will eventually, hopefully help if not to find a cure, but develop a widely available, economically viable and safe treatment plan to help reduce mortality rates from this most prolific of killers in the developed world. To find out more general information, there is a variety of useful web resources available. For a general overview on cancer and current treatments visit: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn15013-cancer-special-old-killer-newhope.html#.UlIW9dhYX-A To find out why is cancer so common among humans nowadays, take a look at this informative news article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/0/22028516 A recent news story regarding potential nanoparticle treatment of cancer is this one where gamers are encouraged to play a video game which will help to produce new, novel ideas about how to treat cancer in the future: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21929344.600-gamers-unleashswarms-of-nanoparticles-on-tumours.html#.UlIWo9hYX-A Word Count: 739

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